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Justifiable Skepticism

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So what lessons can we learn from the Ted Hults/ Bill McGintee/ East Hampton financial collapse episode?

We’re reluctant to say that public officials should not be trusted with large sums of money, but what we have seen unfold here in the past year only justifies the skepticism the people have for their government. Motivated by power, greed or sheer incompetence, our elected and appointed officials are more often than we care to imagine guilty of abusing their authority.

In the case of East Hampton, the effort to deceive the public was driven by a need for elected officials to stay in power. Year after year budgets were presented that artificially kept tax demand down in an effort not to anger the voting public. At the same time, a demand for funds for employee wages, retirement and services continued to escalate. The town was presenting a false sense of financial stability so elected officials would continue to get elected while expenses flew out of control and revenues failed to meet the needs. It became so desperate that money dedicated to the Community Preservation Fund and capital funds for the Montauk Playhouse were redirected to help prop up the general fund — $12 million worth.

It is a disgraceful practice, carried out, we imagine, in many governments regularly; but not usually with such disastrous results. Some governments may actually be able to get away with this shell game when someone with a finer hand is at the controls. That was not the case in East Hampton.

Among the lessons here is that all governments — whether they be municipal such as villages and towns, or even school boards — need to be aware that the services and the benefits they promise have a cost to them. Board members and public employees need to understand that they work for the people who elected them and who pay their salaries, and are therefore beholden to those people whose money in the form of tax dollars they manage. The public is a body that needs to see how money is handled in clear and transparent ways, and the impact of decisions made by elected officials needs to be made apparent to the public.

And finally, while the public needs to understand — like officials do — that services cost, they also must ask questions and demand accountability. Because apparently our skepticism is justified.

In East Hampton, Hults Pleads Guilty, McGintee Will Face No Charges

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By Kathryn G. Menu

On Monday afternoon, former East Hampton Town Budget Director Ted Hults pled guilty to two misdemeanor counts of securities fraud and official misconduct before State Supreme Court Justice William Condon in Riverhead.

In exchange for the plea deal, Hults, 43, of Sag Harbor, will not serve any jail time and was only required to pay a $200 discharge fee.

The charges were among 14 felony and misdemeanors charges laid against Hults after an investigation into financial mismanagement in East Hampton Town. Former East Hampton Town Supervisor Bill McGintee, who resigned last fall in the midst of revelations about the town’s deepening financial woes, will not face any charges.

Hults admitted in court that official statements on the town’s financial position issued to Wall Street investors considering the purchase of East Hampton’s Bond Anticipation Notes (BANs) contained misrepresentations about the town’s financial status, according to a release issued by Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota. Hults also admitted that he illegally transferred $8 million from the town’s Community Preservation Fund (CPF) to other town operating budgets to meet day-to-day expenses, and that he was warned by then town attorney Laura Molinari that such a practice was illegal.

“I don’t believe you are a bad person,” said Justice Condon to Hults on Monday, calling his incompetence as a budget director “nothing short of stunning.”

According to Government Corruption Bureau Chief Christopher McPartland, it was Hults’ lack of a criminal record and the fact that he did not personally profit from his criminal behavior that led the county to accept the guilty plea in exchange for a conditional discharge. As long as Hults stays out of legal trouble, all other counts against him will be dropped.

Following Hults’ plea, on Tuesday Spota released a blistering grand jury report. compiled during a six-month long investigation, detailing the “rapid collapse of the Town of East Hampton’s financial condition” from 2003 to 2009, resulting in a $30 to $40 million deficit.

McGintee was supervisor from January of 2004 to 2009 with Hults serving as his budget officer. Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman was town supervisor in 2003, with Len Bernard, the current East Hampton Town Budget Officer under supervisor Bill Wilkinson, serving as his budget officer.

The town’s debt will be bonded through deficit financing approved by the New York State Legislature, “at a great cost to the Town of East Hampton taxpayers,” the grand jury statement reads.

According to the report, the financial decline of the town was the result of “steadily increasing costs,” in particular for employee benefits, salaries and retirement costs, with town officials at the same time “for political expediency” refusing to raise taxes or cut expenses.

In respect to rising employee benefit costs for town civil service employees and police officers, the report states that the town under budgeted $6 million to cover those expenses from 2004 to 2007.

The grand jury found that tax cuts without spending cuts under the Schneiderman administration in the 2003 and 2004 budgets left the town in need of a 25 percent tax increase, with a McGintee administration town board only adopting a nine percent tax increase for the 2005 fiscal year.

In interviews with town employees during the course of the investigation, the grand jury states it was told the reasons to not raise taxes despite the necessity were politically motivated.

“Each witness testified consistently that taxes were not raised to meet expected costs in order to preserve elected positions,” the report reads. “The stated concern was that if taxes were raised substantially, then those facing election might be voted out.”

The town’s refusal to follow the advice of independent auditors and implement financial controls is also cited as it contributed to the financial meltdown. In recommendations made in 2003 and November of 2004, auditors urged the town to establish procedures to monitor the town’s budget, and take steps to better control spending. Auditors also noted that the town’s books and records were not being closed properly, on a monthly basis, and that accounting records were not being maintained “timely and accurately,” and suggested the town use software to track expenditures of capital projects rather than track them manually.

As of 2008, none of these practices were implemented despite the recommendation, according to the grand jury report.

“This decline in the town’s financial condition occurred because the Board and Town officials engaged in poor budgeting practices, including failing to appropriate adequate funding for expenses, and then routinely over-expending the appropriations,” read a statement from the New York State Comptroller’s Office. “Rather than taking necessary steps to match revenues to expenses, the Board and Town officials tried to finance budgets by appropriating unavailable fund balance, which further increased deficits. In addition, Town officials did not provide, and the Board did not demand, accurate and timely financial information to prepare sound budgets and to monitor spending.”

According to the grand jury report, the State Comptroller’s office found that poor budget estimates and non-existent fund balances led to a $7.5 million decline in surplus funds from December 2003 to December 2007.

The grand jury also found $8 million of CPF monies were improperly used – a fact, it notes, that was hidden from the town board and the public, and $4 million funds for capital projects like the Montauk Playhouse were improperly used to pay for general fund expenses.

According to the county district attorney’s office, McGintee and the town board were unaware Hults was illegally moving the CPF monies to cover general expenses in the town.

“The Town of East Hampton’s financial condition was propelled into a state of crisis between 2003 and 2009 by town employees who destroyed the financial health of the town,” concludes the grand jury report. “Trained professional accountants and lawyers gave critical advice regarding the town’s finances which was disregarded by certain town employees to the detriment of Town of East Hampton residents.”

The grand jury adds the town board should enact legislation creating liability and accountability for officials “who delegate authority blindly” and adopt secure financial policies. 

GOP Sweeps East Hampton Race

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Republican, Conservative and Independence candidate Bill Wilkinson handily defeated Democratic and Working Families Party candidate Ben Zwirn Tuesday night in a GOP sweep of East Hampton’s town board race.

According to unofficial results from the Suffolk County Board of Elections, Wilkinson earned 67 percent of the votes cast in East Hampton, with 4,587. Zwirn captured just 2,286 votes, or 33 percent of the vote, giving Wilkinson a clear mandate of support with a 2-to-1 margin of victory.

In the supervisor’s race alone, 6,873 ballots were cast of 15,894 registered voters. That represents the highest percentage of ballots in any of the town races, with 43 percent of East Hampton residents turning out to have their voices heard in the supervisor’s contest.

In Sag Harbor, voters preferred Democratic challenger Zwirn, although by a small margin. Zwirn captured 165 votes in Sag Harbor’s lone East Hampton voting district to Wilkinson’s 144.

It was just before 10 p.m. that Zwirn conceded to Wilkinson, with just two election districts in the town reporting results at that time. By that point, Wilkinson already held a 2-to-1 lead over Zwirn.

After his concession, Zwirn stopped by Republican headquarters at Indian Wells Tavern in Amagansett to shake Wilkinson’s hand in congratulations.

Republicans were also victorious in the race for town council. Similar to the supervisor’s contest, no candidate in the town council race was an incumbent with current board member Pat Mansir choosing not to run for re-election and board member Brad Loewen failing to get support from the Democratic Party to seek another term.

Wilkinson’s running mates, Theresa Quigley and Dominick Stanzione bested Democratic opponents John Whelan and Patti Leber, with Quigley earning the most votes – 4,057 or 31 percent of the vote. Stanzione followed with 3,590 or 28 percent of the vote to earn a seat on the town board, with Whelan earning just 2,834 or 22 percent of the vote and Leber garnering 19 percent of the vote with 2,481.

Similar to the supervisor race, voters on the East Hampton side of Sag Harbor preferred the Democratic candidates to the Republican victors. Whelan scored the most votes in Sag Harbor with 179, followed by Leber who earned 149. Quigley gathered 137 votes out of the district with Stanzione earning 121.

Results for Prudence Carabine, a candidate who pursued a vigorous write-in campaign for town board, will be unavailable until the Suffolk County Board of Elections certifies its results.

“I was hopeful we would be successful because we ran, I thought, such an above the board campaign and in no way responded to what I thought was an unattractive campaign ran by our opponents,” said Wilkinson on Wednesday morning. “This is an outstanding endorsement from the residents of our town.”

Wilkinson said his first plans include setting up a transition team. The Republicans will walk onto the town board in January with an instant majority, which Wilkinson said was a priority moving through the election season.

With a deficit he predicts will reach as high as $28 million by the close of the fiscal year, a supervisor that has resigned under the cloud of fiscal mismanagement and a budget process seemingly stalled by disagreements within the current town board, Wilkinson said the priority will be to hit the ground running with a plan on how to deal specifically with the growing deficit. He said he plans to tap people like Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman and state assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr. and state senator Kenneth P. LaValle, to aid in the transition and offer the new team guidance moving forward.

“They are the two who will have to shepherd any potentially new deficit financing plan coming out the state,” said Wilkinson of Thiele and LaValle. The state has already provided the town with $15 million in deficit financing, but Wilkinson predicts much more will be needed to get through the town’s fiscal crisis and added going back to the state a third time will be out of the question, so it is tantamount the new board gets a handle on how deep this deficit will ultimately run.

“If we can get the deficit financing straight, we can then start working on the things necessary to support the kind of payments we will need to make on such a loan,” said Wilkinson.

On his first day in office, Wilkinson said his first priority will be to meet with department heads in order to fully assess the town’s needs.

Republican’s also swept the town trustee race with John Gosman, Jr. – who was endorsed by both parties – earning the most votes at 5,386. Stephanie Talmage, Timothy Bock, Kayla Talmage, Diane McNally, William Mott, Edward Norman, Jr., Joseph Bloecker and Lynn Mendelman were also elected to trustee seats.

Closer races were waged between superintendent of highway candidates and in the town justice race. Democrat Scott King squeaked out a victory against Republican Tom Talmage earning 53 percent of the vote to keep his job as highway superintendent. Democrat Catherine Cahill also kept her seat as a town justice, besting Republican Andy Hammer by also earning just 53 percent of the vote.

Town clerk Fred Overton, who was running unopposed, was also re-elected to his post as was town assessor Eugene De Pasquale.

Airport Noise Still “Canker” for People

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While a number of pilots attended the East Hampton Town Board’s public hearing on the future of the East Hampton Airport, praising initiatives to repair and reopen a damaged runway, the forum was dominated by Southampton Town residents who complained the town plan does not do enough to address the issue of helicopter noise.

The town’s master plan presently includes the construction of a seasonal air traffic control tower, the re-opening of runway 4-22, which pilots argue is the safest runway, but is in need of millions of dollars in repairs. Relocating Daniels Hole Road to create room to allow pilots to use the whole of the main runway for landings is also discussed in the plan.

With over 80 people in attendance at the town’s September 17 meeting on its Draft Environmental Impact Statement for its Airport Master Plan, Supervisor Bill McGintee opened the meeting cautioning the crowd to keep the conversation constructive and specific to the DEIS.

“The last time we had a hearing it was at East Hampton High School,” said McGintee. “And we had comments like if you don’t get rid of helicopters this board has no guts or ban everything on the face of the Earth. This hearing is not about those issues.”

Kathy Cunningham, the chairperson of the town’s Airport Noise Abatement Committee opened public comment praising the board for initiatives like the addition of an Airfield Wind Advisory System (AWAS) and discussions about the construction of a seasonal air traffic control tower. However, Cunningham said the plan leaves out critical noise abatement studies and goals for the airport.

“My main concern is the total lack, or failure, of the EIS to deal with the noise problem, which in our view is the primary environmental concern,” said Cunningham. “The shortcomings of the DEIS really reflect the shortcomings of the airport master plan. There are no standard noise abatement goals or a noise abatement program.”

Cunningham questioned why the town failed to take advice from a firm it retained to study airport noise, Kaplan, Kirsh & Rockwell and called for a larger study on noise impacts. She added the committee feels the plan presents “an unrealistically low forecast for growing helicopter traffic.”

Southampton Town Board member Nancy Graboski and town planning director Jefferson Murphree joined the committee in their opinion that the master plan does little to deal with noise related to the airport – noise often affecting Southampton Town residents.

Graboksi and Murphree said the town supported the use of an AWAS system at the airport, as well as the construction of an air traffic control tower.

Graboski asked the town look at adjusting a current route over Jessups Neck, which affects residents in Noyac, North Sea, Sag Harbor and North Haven.

“What I would like to see further evaluated is adjusting that northerly route so it comes out further over Long Island Sound north of Orient Point and then cuts south over North West Creek so that it takes that traffic away from North Haven, Shelter Island and those areas close to the shore around Peconic Bay,” said Graboski.

East Hampton resident Patricia Hope said that while residents have been told to call in their complaints about noise, they could only take so much.

“They say when you hear a plane, you need to make a phone call,” said the Northwest Creek resident. “Sixteen planes in 16 minutes at 7 a.m. on a Monday morning – it gets a little old.”

Hope noted experts have deemed the route over the Atlantic Ocean and over Georgica Pond as the route with the least impact.

“My perception – as a citizen and taxpayer – of accountability will be greatly improved when the Town of East Hampton adopts the corridor its own paid consultants called better than others,” said Hope.

Bridgehampton resident and member of the Friends of the Long Pond Greenbelt Sandra Ferguson agreed with Hope, and called for the town to recognize its airport impacts surrounding communities and nature preserves including the Long Pond Greenbelt.

“I am here to say we feel your judgment regarding approaches to East Hampton should keep in mind the equity and fairness of what I like to call the noise canker in the east of our town and to the west of yours,” she said. “Our plea is to be fair.”

Noyac resident Bill Reilly said the Federal Aviation Administration’s method of monitoring helicopter noise, which the town uses, is insufficient.

“Another issue that has to be addressed is the method of identifying and recording the noise from helicopters,” said Reilly. “The FAA permits 12 hours of 65-decibels of noise per day in each location. That is outrageous and obviously not suited for this location.”

Budget Officer Faces Felony Charges

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East Hampton Town’s former budget officer Edward “Ted” Hults was arraigned on seven felony charges and two misdemeanors Thursday morning after a months long investigation by Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota into alleged criminal mismanagement and fraud related to illegal transfers from the town’s Community Preservation Fund and misrepresentations allegedly made by Hults on bond applications.

For over a year, Hults and East Hampton Town Supervisor Bill McGintee have been under scrutiny, and investigation, over the town’s finances, as the town went from an $11 million surplus in 2004 when McGintee was elected to what is expected to near an $18 million deficit by the close of the next fiscal year.

McGintee has yet to be charged with any crimes, although according to published reports he has retained legal counsel.

Hults, who resigned as budget officer three weeks ago, was arraigned at East Hampton Town Justice Court on a felony charge of defrauding the government, and a misdemeanor count of official misconduct as a result of the alleged transfer of $8 million from the town’s CPF to other operating funds, despite warnings from the town attorney that such transfers were illegal.

He was also charged with two counts of fraudulent practices in respect to stocks, bonds and other securities, two counts of falsifying business records in the first degree and two counts of offering a false instrument for filing in the first degree – all felony crimes, as well as an additional misdemeanor count for official misconduct in relation to allegations that Hults prepared bond documents with false information in July and August of 2007 in an effort to borrow money on behalf of the town.

According to a release issued by District Attorney Spota’s office on Thursday, Hults allegedly prepared a bond anticipation note for the town in June and August of 2007 that stated the town had a surplus of $171,573 when in fact it was running a deficit of over $900,000. Another misrepresentation made in the note, said Spota, was that former town attorney Laura Molinari had reviewed the documents when in fact she had not. Molinari resigned last year as town attorney after joining town board members in calling for Hults’ dismissal.

According to the district attorney’s office, the felony counts have the potential to carry 16-month to four-year sentences, while the misdemeanor counts are punishable by up to a year in jail.

Hults pled not guilty to the misdemeanor charges and did not enter a plea for the felony counts.

During his arraignment on Thursday, Chris McPartland, chief of the county’s government corruption bureau, which has been handling an investigation of town officials’ alleged crimes, did not request bail for Hults, citing his cooperation with the district attorney’s office. East Hampton Town Justice Lisa Rana released Hults on his own recognizance and the court will reconvene to hear the matter on July 30 at 9:30 a.m.

Following Hults’ arraignment, district attorney Spota and New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli – whose office has been investigating the misuse of CPF throughout the five East End towns – convened a press conference to discuss both the district attorney’s investigation and the state comptroller’s findings.

Noting East Hampton is often viewed as a playground for the rich and famous, Spota noted many residents of the town are hardworking men and women, sometimes working two jobs, and now wondering how they will manage not only their mortgage payments, but also sky-high taxes.

“They are entitled, in my view, to rely on their public officials to be running an honest, efficient open government,” said Spota. “Unfortunately that has not happened in East Hampton.”

Spota said the criminal mismanagement and fraud committed by Hults was not for personal gain – Hults has not been accused of embezzlement – but rather for “political advantage.”

“These lies did not personally enrich Hults in anyway, or anyone else,” said Spota. “He did it to hide the deteriorating financial situation that would, if uncovered, create significant political problems for the town supervisor who at that time was running for reelection.”

According to Spota, the “scheme” began in December of 2006 when Hults allegedly received a call from McGintee reporting that the town was unable to meet its payroll for its over 500 employees. It was then, Hults told the district attorney’s office, that he suggested they take monies from CPF to meet payroll and other financial obligations.

“It is very, very clear in the law, and Hults and McGintee were warned and told by the town attorney that the CPF is to be used only to acquire open space and farmland,” said Spota.

In addition to covering payroll, according to Spota, the $8 million taken from CPF also covered town expenses at the airport, for highway street lighting and for garbage removal.

“These illegal transfers were made to hide from the taxpayers and voters in the town the horrendous fiscal condition that the town was truly in,” said Spota.

Towns Ask for New Rail System

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With an operational train station and ferries running to and from Manhattan, Sag Harbor was once a beacon of public transportation. The heyday of the village’s transport system was at the turn of the last century. Fast forward 100 years and the tracks have been ripped up, the ferries have been replaced by the Long Island Expressway and the village’s public transportation system has been reduced to two Suffolk County buses.
Municipal officials from Southold to Southampton, however, are hoping to reverse this trend. Based upon two proposals presented by the Volpe Center at a transportation forum held at Suffolk County Community College’s Riverhead campus on Friday, April 17, local government officials clamored for a hybrid plan to establish a coordinated rail and bus system throughout the East End.
The consensus of the group favored the first of Volpe’s proposals, with the caveat of adding certain elements from the second proposal, which called for a more intricate bus plan and a gradual phase-in of rail improvements. Proposal one calls for an overhaul of the East End railway system, which would be coordinated with a modest bus service. Sean Pierce of Volpe said trains would run seven days a week, every hour during off-peak times and every half hour during peak times. The service would operate 14 to 18 hours a day, depending on the season, and while the possible cost of train fare wasn’t offered, bus fares, which are currently $2, would be raised to $2.50 a ride.
Seven additional sidings — tracks that allow two trains to pass — would need to be built and 17 new trains purchased. Certain defunct depot stations, like those at Southampton College, Water Mill and Wainscott, would be reopened under the plan and updated to become handicap accessible.
The town and village bus system would be designed to operate around the train service. On demand bus shuttles would act as “feeders” to the train stations and serve residents living within a three mile radius of the station. Fixed bus routes, serving communities outside of the three-mile zone, would be maintained. Altogether, 52 buses would be purchased and a dispatch center created to process on-demand reservations.
“We already have the [railway] infrastructure,” said Southampton Town Councilwoman Nancy Graboski.
Others asked the plan be tweaked based on geographical needs. Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell requested increased bus services on the North Fork because the rail road tracks end in Greenport and don’t provide service as far as Orient Point.
“We shouldn’t lose focus of the long term goals for the railroad … We need to take very progressive steps,” said Southampton Town Supervisor Linda Kabot.
“If we build it they will come … We have the potential to create the opportunity for increased ridership,” added East Hampton Town Supervisor Bill McGintee.
The first proposal, however, comes with a hefty price tag. Initial capital costs for the railway range from around $106 to $175 million and the annual operating costs are estimated at $19 million. The bus portion of the plan is projected at $25.6 million, with yearly operating expenses of almost $22.1 million.
The exact source of funding for the project also remains a pressing question, especially for Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman, who was the lone dissenting voice against both plans.
“There is a lot of good work here, but we need to scale things back and focus on a program that costs the least amount of money,” said Schneiderman. “The numbers scare me, especially in this economic climate … Even if we get the money how will we subsidize [the annual costs]?”
New York State Assemblymen Fred Thiele Jr., however, remains confident that the project is eligible for federal funding. Thiele, along with Southampton Town Director of Public Transportation Tom Neely and the town’s grant writer will draft and send a formal request to Congressman Tim Bishop seeking federal grant money for the next phase of the project.
“We are putting in a request … to make it a shovel ready project … [or] right up to the point of bidding,” said Thiele. To make the plan “shovel ready,” all the proposal details from the planning, design and engineering to environmental impact study would have to be completed.
Will Jenkins, a spokesperson for Bishop, said the congressman would request $250,000 from the transportation, housing and development appropriations bill to complete the next step of the process. If the bill passes, federal funding for the planning and design portion of the proposal could be granted by the fall.
Some locals, like Jake Jacobson, say they need additional services as soon as possible to ease their commutes. Jacobson rides the bus from Flanders to Sag Harbor several times a week for work, but said morning buses are often crowded.
“Sometimes I don’t even get a seat on the bus,” said Jacobson. “The 7:10 a.m. bus [from Flanders] passes me by because there are too many people on it. So then I have to wait for the next one, but there might be only one seat.”

Going Hungry for the Deer

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On Monday, in blistering cold, protesters stood out in front of town hall in East Hampton with signs announcing that they are not eating for three days and were asking the town board to reverse a decision to expand the areas for deer hunting within the town.

Members of the East Hampton Group for Wildlife (EHGW), who organized the protest, held the hunger strike on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

Protestors propped up signs on easels and strung posters around their necks reading, “Stop the Killing” and “Hunger Strike for Wildlife.”

They have abstained from eating food, and have been drinking just water since 7 p.m. on Sunday. The fast will end today, Thursday morning.

“The town board has a poor record with respect to wildlife,” president of the EHGW Bill Crain said on Monday.

“Because the defenseless animals cannot speak on their behalf, it’s up to people to call attention to their plight,” he continued. He also said that he believes the bulk of hunters do not hunt because they need food, but as sport.

The protest on Monday had about 10 participants, and shortly after the group convened in front of town hall, local hunters came and offered their own — contrary — opinions.

“I enjoy eating what I shoot and I enjoy being out in the woods,” said 72-year-old Springs resident and local hunter Hugh Miles.

“Nothing goes to waste when I kill a deer, I eat the meat and my children eat the meat,” the hunter and father of three girls said on Monday.

That day marked the beginning of the special shotgun season for deer hunting in East Hampton, the season goes until January 30. During this time, hunters are allowed to shoot in the approved areas using shotguns during weekdays.

The EHGW is a non-profit organization that explores alternative solutions to human-wildlife conflicts.

Last January, the town agreed to install reflectors along Stephen Hands Path in East Hampton. According to Crain, the reflectors have reduced the number of deer hit along that road. The idea was created by EHGW members, and funded solely by the organization. The group would like to see more reflectors put up and see the town possibly engage in a contraception program for deer to reduce the population.

 “It has been proven by the State of New York and Pennsylvania that the reflectors don’t work,” countered Miles, “so why waste the money?”

Crain maintains they work.

The total expanded town hunting areas total some 62 acres in Wainscott, East Hampton and Springs. The majority of the expanded shotgun hunting area is in Wainscott.

Crain said his intention is to get the town to reduce the area.

“I personally wish we would get rid of all hunting,” said Crain, “But we are asking the board to reverse the decision.”

“That would be a good step,” he said.

East Hampton Town Supervisor Bill McGintee said he does not have any plans to reverse the decision to expand the hunting area which was made in August.

“We review the hunting areas every two years and I don’t think there has been a big increase in the amount of hunters,” the supervisor said. “The expansion of land doesn’t encourage more hunting.”

Further, McGintee said that there should be a fair sharing of open space.

“There are those people that hike and those that mountain bike and those people that hunt. Everyone has a different reason for utilizing the trails and no group should be excluded,” he said.

If the hunger strike proves unsuccessful, Crain said he will be planning a different way to raise awareness. On Wednesday Crain delivered a letter to the supervisor asking for four specific goals including the examination of contraception and roadside reflectors as well as asking the town to set a goal of eliminating the hunting of all wildlife on 50 percent of town nature preserves and to reverse the decision made on August 5 that expanded the hunting areas.

McGintee said that he respects Bill Crain and his wife Ellen and adds they are “sincere in what they do.” But, he said, “They are under the assumption that by expanding the area it will increase the number of hunters and that doesn’t prove true.”

Crain said he wishes the community could learn to “live in harmony with the deer and all wildlife.”

“Our group is not disapproved to the expansion of hunting, but there is already too much hunting going on. This puts pets, hikers and residents in danger,” he said, and believes this is “practically shooting in the suburbs.”



East Hampton Town Board Nixes Raises

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By Kathryn G. Menu and Melissa Lynch

Just two weeks before East Hampton residents will have the opportunity to formally comment on a proposed 18 percent tax increase for 2009, the town’s board unanimously chose this week not to accept a raise in pay this year.
“This was a board decision, not just a decision made by me,” said East Hampton Town Supervisor Bill McGintee on Wednesday.
The proposed spending plan of $67 million for the 2009 fiscal year includes a contractual 4.75 percent salary increase for union employees. In his budget proposal, McGintee noted that salary increases were extended to non-union and elected officials at a 3.75 percent rate.
While the proposed budget represents an almost $8 million drop from the approved 2008 budget of $75 million, residents in the town are still looking at a hefty tax increase of 18 percent, with those living in the village looking at a 28 percent tax increase.
Last week, some residents expressed concern over spending in town hall, and aksed that projects like the conversion of historic structures into town hall be halted in the face of an economic downturn and a projected $15 million deficit in the town by the close of 2009.
Rhoda Bation, an East Hampton resident, sharply criticized the board for even considering raises for themselves.
“Times are so difficult,” she said. “Can you tell me how you can justify giving yourself raises of just under five percent?”
At the time, McGintee responded to Bation that traditionally non-union employees are extended the same raise as those negotiated with union employees. However, during Tuesday’s work session, the board agreed not to extend the raises to the board, saving an estimated $12,000. Town board members are currently paid about $60,000, while the supervisor makes just over $95,000. Other non-union employees are still slated to receive a raise.
McGintee said on Wednesday, the move was a “good faith” effort on the part of the board to show taxpayers it is trying to curb spending where it can.
“It was a decision that we made amongst ourselves some time ago,” said board member Brad Loewen on Wednesday. “We recognized the dire straits we were in. We considered that we were willing to do this as a good faith gesture and stand in solidarity with our citizens.”
“We need to show people that we are with them in all of this,” said board member Julia Prince on Wednesday. “Honestly, if the board had agreed to take the raises, I would have placed mine in an escrow account and donated it to one of the organizations whose funding is getting cut.”
The proposed budget does have a series of cuts in funding for organizations like Project MOST — the town’s after school program — and East Hampton Day Care. According to Prince, on Tuesday, small cuts continued, although she cautioned it is her belief that historically under-funded budgets are to blame, in part, for the fiscal crisis the town currently finds itself mired in.
“We have to be realistic because not being realistic is how we got here,” said Prince, who said the board is receiving monthly reports from department heads, making spending more easily controllable. “Why should we leave it to the state comptroller to come back to us and say, you completely under-funded your budget. We are the elected officials, we should do what is right.”
McGintee agreed that cost cutting measures are necessary, but that the board should be careful.
“At the next meeting you will see that some may say the budgetary increases are too much, but at the same meeting I will have people saying there is not enough money,” said McGintee. “You can’t win no matter what you do in this situation.”

Despite Cuts, Taxes Will Rise In East Hampton

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A majority of residents in the Town of East Hampton are looking at an 18-percent tax increase, despite the fact that Supervisor Bill McGintee’s proposed spending plan for $67 million for the 2009 fiscal year represents an almost $8 million drop from the approved 2008 budget of $75 million. Residents in the Village of East Hampton are looking at a 28-percent tax increase should the budget be adopted as is by the town board.

On October 28 at 10:30 a.m. residents will have the opportunity to address the proposed budget at a special town board meeting, said McGintee on Wednesday, although some residents have already shown up at town board meetings this week to voice their concern about the proposed tax increase.

According to McGintee, cuts in the budget enable the town, in the throes of a multi-million dollar deficit, to pay over $7 million in debt service in 2009 – a part of a 10-year plan to repay a state bond to cover the deficit that McGintee said would reach a maximum of $15 million by the close of 2009.

And while spending is down, according to McGintee, anticipated revenues are projected to be down some $16 million, although McGintee noted the number is deceiving as Community Preservation Fund revenues have been removed from the figures.

“The big downturn in revenues is in mortgage taxes,” said McGintee on Wednesday. The budget anticipates the town will receive $1.5 million less in mortgage tax revenues than it did last fiscal year. McGintee acknowledged the downturn in the real estate market given the current economy was the impetus for the projections. 

In an effort to help stem the revenue tide, McGintee has proposed a number of cuts for civic and cultural programs, as well as increased fees for resident services.

For the first time, town residents will be asked to fork over $25 annually for a town beach sticker, with seniors asked to pay $15 each year. Fees are also going up at the town dump where residents will be asked to pay $104 in 2009, as opposed to $79, and seniors will have to pay $74, up from $50, for their town dump sticker.

According to McGintee, just less than $1 million in grants for cultural mainstays in the town were reduced in this year’s budget as another way to reduce spending. Reductions in funding for programs like the East Hampton Day Care and Project Most, an after school program are also proposed.

“Unfortunately, we did have to make cuts, but what we did make sure to hold on to are the costs that cover services to our seniors and nutrition programs,” said McGintee on Wednesday. “In times like this it is important to look out for those who are most vulnerable.”

McGintee noted programs like the drug rehabilitation and counseling service Phoenix House will continue to see funding.

“No one likes to make cuts,” said McGintee. “They are all worthy causes, but look around the nation – look what is happening everywhere.”

The budget also includes a contractual 4.75 percent salary increase for union employees, which is also extended to cover non-union employees including the town board and supervisor positions. McGintee said in the face of a turbulent economy he would not start cutting jobs, with the knowledge those employees would struggle to find work. 

According to McGintee, he believes this will be a one and only large tax increase town residents will see in coming years.

“I am not going to say there will not be increases in the future, but I do not intend to allow what has happened for the last 10 years to continue.”

McGintee said from now on, as long as he was in office, the cost of running government would be reflected in each budget, and not be covered up by using surplus monies to instill a zero percent tax increase.

“I am confident it is a good budget,” said McGintee, who said he hopes that people with legitimate concerns regarding the budget and any proposed cuts do turn out on October 28.

As a part of the deal reached with the state for a bond to cover the town’s deficit, the town’s finances will be overseen by the state comptroller, who McGintee said would review the 2009 budget. Copies of the budget are available for review in the town clerk’s office.

In other news, the town board approved a measure on Friday to take a $15 million loan against future Community Preservation Fund (CPF) revenues in order to ensure money is available for the purchase of properties like the Boys Harbor camp in Springs and the over 70-acre Dick Cavett parcel in Montauk.

The program’s revenues are generated through a two-percent transfer tax on real estate transactions. McGintee stressed it would likely be the last time the town could borrow against CPF revenues as the downturn in the real estate market continues.













Town Moves Toward Keeping All Runways

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The Springs Fire House was filled with local pilots on Tuesday morning concerned over plans to possibly eliminate runway 4-22 at the East Hampton Airport.
Representing the Save East Hampton Airport Group, Bill Esseks informed the board that 100 percent of Long Island airports have a runway similar to 4-22. The runway runs in a southwesterly direction to accommodate the prevailing winds in the area.
Tom Gibbons told the board that every one knows the safest way to land and take off, particularly in a small aircraft, is into the wind. And local pilot Bruno Schwenk said not only do pilots know that, but ducks and geese do as well.
The controversy over 4-22 began at a work session two weeks ago when the town board was discussing the airport layout plan that has been in the works for over two years. It had been decided at another work session that the plan would focus on repairing and maintaining runway 4-22, which has been shut down for over a decade, to be used as the secondary runway at the airport. However at the work session two weeks ago, the option of making runway 16-34 the secondary runway instead of 4-22 was discussed.
Town Councilwoman Julia Prince recalled the meeting and said, “It was presented [by the consultants] to us to scratch 4-22 and go with 16-34 instead.”
The rationale was because the take off patterns for 4-22 go directly over residential neighborhoods. She said, though, that the missing information at that work session was the notion of the prevailing winds.
Town supervisor Bill McGintee tried to calm the crowd on Tuesday, saying, “The discussion two weeks ago was not meant to abandon 4-22. It was meant to take a harder look at 16-34.”
Audience members on Tuesday speculated that the need to take a harder look at 16-34 was politically motivated.
“The town board was not stupid in 1932 when it created three runways,” said Tom Twomey. “They built all three for a good reason. So why would you decide all of a sudden to cut out a runway? I’ll tell you why. Political influence from neighbors.”
McGintee said the town was not in the position of ignoring those neighbors’ concerns.
“It’s easy to say, they built by the airport so the hell with them; but we don’t have the luxury of doing that,” said the supervisor.
Also debated on Tuesday was whether or not the town should accept money from the Federal Aviation Administration. Currently the town is working on a financial model to see whether or not the airport can be self-sustaining without help from the FAA. Critics in the audience said the only reason not to take the money from the FAA would be a political one as well.
Local pilot Bill Berkowski said the way he saw it, the town’s hesitancy to approve FAA funding was because they would have less control over the airport. He said taking money from the FAA would not allow the town to close down a runway during the day to appease those who may be “sipping tea on their front porches.”
Prince said on Wednesday, “Personally I think it would be unwise to not accept money from the FAA. Regardless of whether or not we accept it, they still kind of have their say. They control the place.”
She said the assumption over the years has been if the town accepts funding from the outside agency, they would not have control over the airport. She said, though, even if the town refuses funding, the FAA still runs the show to an extent.
It was decided on Tuesday that the town would move forward with a Draft Environmental Impact Statement on alternative two of the airport layout study. That alternative makes 4-22 the secondary runway and also utilizes 16-34 as an alternate runway.
“We are closer to finalizing this than anybody has been in along time,” said the supervisor, referring to two abandoned layout studies over the past two decades. “And we will get this done, if not to the full satisfaction of everybody, but at least to a passing grade of satisfaction.”

Top Photo: Tom Twomey addresses the audience at Tuesday’s brown bag session at the Springs Firehouse in East Hampton.